Matt Witwicki

2018 NSIC Week 6 Preview

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Northern State (1-4) at Concordia-St. Paul (2-3)
NSU had another “almost” game in last Saturday’s loss to Winona State. The Wolves had late leads against both SCSU and WSU the last two weeks but weren’t able to finish. I think they’ve made offensive improvements, becoming more explosive with budding superstar Dakota Larson (WR) and his connection with signal-caller Hunter Troutman. The challenge for the Wolves is beefing up an inefficient running game, averaging only 3.1 yards per tote. That’s a pretty poor average for a squad accustomed to pounding the rock and establishing the running game. Gerald Maxwell (RB) being hurt certainly isn’t helping this situation. Troutman has been solid at quarterback, currently 3rd in total offense in the league. The Northern D is middle of the pack which means they are probably better than their 1-4 record suggests, but they haven’t found a way to win the close ones.

Things don’t get any easier as the Wolves march into St. Paul to face one of the NSIC’s surprise teams. The Golden Bears are 2-3 with their losses coming to USF-Mankato-Duluth. They played USF tough, but cowered a bit against UMD and Kato. CSP missed top running back Shaq Johnson against UMD hurting the offensive output. QB Dom McKinzy has been a nice addition for the Bears but he’s struggled at times.

This one is tough to call. I think NSU has nice upside but right now I can’t trust them to win games like this against South division foes and CSP has taken care of business pretty easily against non-elite teams. I’m taking CSP to win at home.
Concordia 27-19

Upper Iowa (1-4) at Minot State (1-4)
The Beavers are a really young squad breaking in a lot of key parts, including quarterback. They certainly took their lumps a week ago at Sioux Falls and don’t have much to build off considering a stunning loss the week before to Crookston.

Upper Iowa is similar to Northern (above). Competitive in games against mid-level competition but unable to seal the deal in the end most of the time. UIU already has close losses this year (by a total of 8 points) to Augie, SMSU and MSUM. Brent Lammers is still one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league but the Peacocks are struggling to establish their running game.

I think the UIU passing game has its way with Minot and gets a road win on the furthest road trip (700 miles) in the conference.
UIU 34-14

Wayne State (1-4) at St. Cloud State (3-2)
SCSU is working through a quarterback situation with starter Dwayne Lawhorn injured and backup Justin Czech struggling to make plays in the passing game. A week ago Czech went 5 for 15 with 2 interceptions as the Huskies netted just 160 yards of total offense at Mankato. SCSU generally has been able to run the football but the Huskies point output is at 20ppg, in the back half of the conference. The SCSU defense has been solid against the teams that aren’t in the top 5 so one would think they’ll be fine this week.

Wayne State has competed this fall, similar to Northern State. Last week WSC limited Bemidji State to 260 yards of offense. The Wildcats are working with their 2nd and 3rd unit quarterbacks but still have some weapons like WR Nate Rogers, the conference leader in receiving yards (98ypg).

Neither team is coming into this game hot but I’m favoring SCSU at home against the type of team the Huskies typically take care of business against.
SCSU 24-17

Minnesota-Duluth (5-0) at Augustana (3-2)
A week ago I thought the Bulldogs would get challenged by the surprise team in the South division, Concordia. Instead, UMD slowly dismantled the Golden Bears and showed why they are the clear favorite in the North Division. Duluth held CSP to 3 points and just 240 yards of offense. Once again QB John Larson and RB Wade Sullivan were solid rushing for UMD and Larson continues to spread things out through the air. The Dogs do a nice job of having some balance between run and pass, while stretching the field.

Augie had a nice rebound game in Crookston and now hosts yet another top NSIC squad (the Vikings have welcomed MSU-Mankato and USF in their other home games). Quarterback Kyle Saddler is leading the NSIC in passing yards (317ypg), but has thrown 7 interceptions. If the Vikings are going to upset UMD, they’ll need Saddler to be more careful with the football and that’ll be a real challenge the way UMD likes to play pressure defense and hurry the passer. The Vikings leading rusher Rudy Sinflorant missed the UMC contest but AU has a capable replacement in true freshman Braiden Peterson. Peterson did go down a week ago, but I’d expect Sinflorant to return this week, with last week likely being a break after a heavy workload and physical game against USF.

This is one of the top games of the weekend, especially given how Augie has battled UMD to the wire in their last few contests. I think the Vikings are much better than their last home showing in which they got steamrolled by their crosstown rival. That game felt like a snowball rolling downhill. AU just couldn’t get back to its feet after getting knocked down. Don’t get me wrong, I think UMD has the ability to put the Vikings down on the canvas like USF did, but Augie should find some favorable advantages in the Bulldog secondary and make some plays down the field if/when they pick up the UMD pressure. The Dogs offense will be a handful for the Vikings D with its varied attack and the way they stretch the field.
UMD 37-24

Sioux Falls (4-1) at Bemidji State (4-1)
Certainly the NSIC game of the week. A matchup of two squads in the top tier of the league. Statistically BSU looks like the better squad. USF has easily played a tougher schedule as the Beavers have played both Mary and Crookston (one win between them). BSU leads the conference in scoring at 44ppg and is second in points allowed at 10ppg. The Cougars have scored 51 and 56 points during the last two weeks, but did have a 15 point output in week 2 at Winona State.

BSU is figuring its way at QB, shifting between backups as starter Brandon Alt went down with an injury. Jared Henning and Alec Ogden have shared the duties and the last two games they’ve run almost as many times as they’ve thrown while completing just 47% of their attempts. Henning appears to be starter going forward as he has game experience from a season ago. Henning ran 12 times for 63 yards against Wayne State in relief of Ogden. Flanked with solid running backs Andrew Lackowski and speedster Jalen Frye, the Beavers now resemble a run-based attack. Only netting 13 first downs a week ago at Wayne State has to be a concern for BSU fans. That said, the Beaver defense has been very strong this year and probably has the most dangerous special teams threat in DB Gunner Olszewski.

USF started the year with a young, struggling defense but has since shored itself up. The Cougars aren’t getting after the quarterback like usual but are only giving up 17ppg. They also have a league leading 10 interceptions, leading to a NSIC best +9 turnover margin. The USF D is more of a no-name bunch than in years past when they had linebackers or defensive backs in the D-POY conversation. USF signal-caller Caden Walters has settled into an offense now mixing nicely a battering ram running attack with Gabe Watson and Colton Myles (1st and 4th in the conference in rushing yards) along with dangerous downfield targets in Nate Johnson and Michael Maxwell. Walters doesn’t throw often, but when he does the Cougars are the most efficient passing team in the league. 2-3 weeks ago I wasn’t talking about this offense in the same way I am today.

The last time these squads met (2016) BSU got off to a fast start at USF (up 20-3 at half) and looked like it would run away with a blowout win. The Cougars though stormed back and won a nail biter of a game (37-36 with the Beavers failing on a two point conversion at the end). BSU has plenty of guys who remember that loss. That should help fuel the Beavers on Homecoming. With the schools perennial contenders in their respective Northern Sun divisions, this matchup has the makings of a cross divisional rivalry going forward.

I could be way off here, but with BSU having recent challenges with the quarterback situation, I think the Beavers will struggle with an improving USF defense. The Beavers have some dangerous weapons, but USF seems to be closer to peak performance at this exact point in the season. The BSU rush defense leads the league in yards per carry (2.2), making for an interesting matchup. The Cougars average 6.33 yards per carry (among the best in Division Two) while Watson is at 8 yards a pop. I like the Cougars to have more success offensively and pull out a hard-hitting game.
USF 30-17

Mary (0-5) at Winona State (3-2)
This matchup is just what the doctor ordered for Winona. The Warriors have had a tough run this entire month, playing in well-contested games on a weekly basis. With the squad banged up and struggling offensively, they should get a fix with a young Mary ballclub coming to town. The Marauders are dead last, allowing 44ppg, while only netting 17ppg offensively after 5 contests. I’ll take Winona in a game where a lot of guys get some game experience.
WSU 48-7

Minnesota State-Mankato (5-0) at Minnesota State-Moorhead (4-1)
Mankato goes to Moorhead as the best team in the NSIC after thumping rival SCSU 45-10 a week ago. The Mavs trailed at Augie and Winona State at half but were able to overpower the Vikings and Warriors to stay unbeaten. RB Nate Gunn is having another good year for the Mavs but overall the running game doesn’t look quite as dominant as last year. It does work nicely with an efficient passing attack. The Mankato defense really stood out a week ago dominating the SCSU offense coming up with up with two defensive scores.

Moorhead has surprised everyone with a 4-1 start (the only setback a blowout loss at Duluth), their best start in 20 years. MSUM wideouts Grady Bresnahan and Jake Richter have caught nearly 60 balls between them which has helped young playmaking signal-caller Jakup Sinani. Sinani has completed 62% of his passes while also moving the chains with his feet. Considering the running game hasn’t been a strength for the Dragons (3.9 ypc), they might be a good matchup with the Mavs, since Mankato has struggled against the pass, but is stout against the run. It’ll be interesting to see if MSUM can make some plays in the passing game, allowing themselves to remain competitive in their test against the top ranked team in D2. Where I see MSUM struggling is slowing down the Mavs. They might harness them down for a bit but I think it’ll be hard to not show signs of wearing down when the second half comes around and Nate Gunn is still running hard. At that point I expect the Mavs to take over. I think Moorhead plays Mankato competitive for a half but feel this young Dragons squad is not ready to take that next step yet and upset a team with the kind of star power MSU possesses.
MSU-Mankato 41-24

Minnesota-Crookston (1-4) at Southwest Minnesota State (2-3)
All of a sudden it looks like the Mustangs are picking themselves up off the canvas after a tough start. Blake Gimbel was the conference player of the week offensively (300+ yards and 5 tds vs. Mary) and he’s now 3rd in the conference in passing yards while completing 60% of his throws.

Crookston’s win-buzz wore off quickly (one week) as Augustana put 38 points on the Golden Eagles in the first half, winning 48-3. UMC struggled on both sides of the ball against the Vikings, amassing only 131 yards in the game while allowing 574 yards.

This one has the makings of a huge offensive day for SMSU with the Mustangs getting to .500 for the year.
SMSU 48-13

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Updated 10-05-2018 at 12:38 PM by Matt Witwicki

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